On a cold Venetian night shortly before Christmas, a man is killed in a scuffle in Campo San Stefano. The dead man was working as a v- cumpr-, one of the many Black Africans selling goods on the street without a work permit. At first glance, Commissario Brunetti is at a loss to understand why anyone would kill an illegal immigrant.
As Brunetti starts to investigate the murky subculture of the Venetian underworld, he discovers that life is cheap in the immigrant community and something of much greater value is at stake. But after being discouraged from investigating by Patta, Brunetti must also prevent the murder from being smugly relegated to the category of 'not worth dealing with'.